How to Respond to a Faith Crisis? Finding Common Interests

Today I am continuing to write about a faith crisis. In today’s journal entry I want to offer a suggestion for how a person can love and relate to a person in a faith crisis or someone who has walked away. That is finding a common interest or learning about something in their life and taking an interest in it. It could be a hobby, work, pastime, or many other things. Today’s post is dedicated to Scott Van Sweringen in Kansas City, Missouri who used his love of trains to engage someone in a faith crisis.


“Vast sections of the world’s population are inspired by the same desires and live for common interests that bind them together far more than they separate them

Mikhail Sholokhov

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light

Helen Keller

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-15 NIV



Norfolk Southern “Lawmen”

This is a post that I have looked forward to doing for a long time. This is probably going to be one of the only posts that I can dive into a personal love I have, and use it to make a point. Again, I’m journaling about my faith crisis and asking the question…if you know someone in a faith crisis or who has walked away from the faith what can you do? Today I am going to journal about finding common interests and other ways to relate to a person in a faith crisis. I also want to state that I dedicate this journal entry today to Scott Van Sweringen in Kansas City, Missouri. It was his love and grace that in many ways taught me what I am going to write about today. Thanks Scott sorry about not calling last night, lets connect soon! Love you brother!

Scott Van Sweringen & Trains

Before my faith crisis or in the early stage of my faith crisis something happened that was very unique in a small evangelical church in Missouri. A pastor preached about finding new ways to reach people and share their faith with them. Scott Van Swernigen heard this talk and thought of his personal love of trains and railroads and wanted to be able to use that love of trains to talk with someone in the Kansas City, Missouri area. In the course of time he would…but it wouldn’t be with someone in Kansas City, Missouri it would be with a guy in the Washington, D.C. area.

A little more about Scott to help put this post in perspective. Scott is from Ohio and his family has a strong presence in the Buckeye state. Scott and his Dad love trains and the railroad that most interests him is called the New York, Chicago & St. Louis, or the “Nickel Plate Road.”  His family if I recalled worked for the Nickel Plate Road, hence his interest. He is also a member of the Nickel Plate Road Historical Society. He enjoys reading up on Nickel Plate Road Berkshires which were the backbone of the steam engine fleet on the railroad. He is also fascinated by the sleek and beautiful Nickel Plate Road Alco PA passenger diesels. He is interested in other railroads to include the Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Akron, Canton & Youngstown.

For a good chunk of my life (minus the time I did sports in high school) I have always loved trains. I really see it as a way to take interest in family history. My family hails from Montana and they used to ride the Northern Pacific North Coast Limited. Here is another view of the North Coast Limited here and here. My family also rode the Milwaukee Road in Montana and well and you can see a couple of pictures here and here. I grew up hearing about the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific from differing members of my family. My grandmother loved riding the train, whereas my “uncle” spoke about seeing the Milwaukee Road in Montana. I grew up in California seeing the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. I attended college in Montana where I got to see the Burlington Northern and Montana Rail Link. For me this almost seemed like drugs in many way. How crazy was I? There were times when I was in college where I’d go outside and stand in weather 10 degrees above zero just to watch the Burlington Northern or Montana Rail Link work its way through Helena, Montana. The way the diesel engine assaulted your senses, how the ground would shake as the train moved by…it was almost like a religious experience.

So why am I saying all this and showing you all this train porn?

The main way that an Elder in a evangelical church in Missouri who worked in a homeless rescue mission and a militant agnostic/atheist in Washington, D.C. at times related and built a relationship happened around a common interest. That interest was trains. I noticed on Facebook that Scott was into trains and I messaged him through Facebook the following:

I was surfing the MTH webpage on Facebook and came across your profile. I started the discussion on what would you like to see MTH make. I’m a diehard Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road fan. I noticed you are a Nickel Plate Road fan. The Nickel Plate was a neat railroad, I think in many cases it has been neglected and that so much more can be made. But I’ve been trying to get MTH and Lionel to make more NP or Milwaukee models.

Anyhow…I noticed in your profile that you went to Moody and work with the homeless in Christian ministry. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions and maybe have an exchange with you. I’m a guy who has largely lost my faith in God. I was a leader in Crusade while in grad school, converted in 1999 and consumed the Bible and literature. I took a job in Washington, D.C. in 2005 and I left the Christian bubble I was in when I lived in Wisconsin.

Slowly as I was dealing with very challenging situations in life – all the spiritual answers, Biblical knowledge, books I read didn’t work in the situations I was dealing with.  I found church harder and harder to stomach and got to a point last year where I decided not to go anymore. I couldn’t read the Bible because it felt shallow.

That was last summer. There were so many things that happened that really challenged me I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. Since you’ve worked with the homeless you’ve probably heard some difficult stuff. For me working with the homeless at the church I went to and realizing all the scripture and verses I read over the years and not hearing them taught or preached greatly bothered me. It almost felt like the Bible was cherry picked in a very subjective way whereas you focus on certain sins while ignore others. This has been one of the many things that have bothered me.

In the midst of all this my faith really was hammered and eventually fell apart.  I hope this message didn’t spook you, sorry if it did.

Have a good night Scott,

That response led to the following one by Scott in return

Eagle – 

Thanks for your message. I have seen your posts about getting the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific stuff made. A worthwhile effort for sure. I’ve actually requested MTH make the Timken 4 Aces Locomotive for the past couple years. Perhaps they will finally listen. Unless I’ve got you confused with another person, you’ve also made the effort and rallied for support on the OGR forum correct?

Your message didn’t spook me at all, and I’d be happy to exchange in dialogue with you about matters of faith. I can’t guarantee I have all the answers, or even the answers you’re looking for, but I will be glad to share with you what I know and believe.

Thanks for sharing your background with me. That gives me a good idea where you are coming from. It sounds like you’ve been in some difficult places and seen some difficult things that can and will challenge anyone’s faith. It also sounds like you’ve seen and been affected greatly by the Church, and what happens when the Church gets it wrong(which unfortunately happens, painful as it is to say that). I care a great deal about the Church and handling of Scripture, so it’s difficult when I hear people who’ve been negatively impacted by those two things. The reality is that it does happen, and it’s never a good thing.

So, feel free to ask questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them and have an open dialogue with you.

Thanks Eagle,


And that is how the relationship started and how it carried on. When I ranted and raved about how Christianity is a cancer or if Scott and I bumped heads, he’d shift the discussion to trains and we’d carry on and discuss back and forth. In the process I didn’t feel like I was a project by him, and I also felt sincerely loved. There was no pressure that he placed on me instead he responded with warmth. From 2011 until 2015 the discussion continues. Knowing Scott was one of the greatest joys that came out of my faith crisis. Scott by his behavior built a bridge that crossed a deep chasm that many Christians couldn’t engage or didn’t know how to. In the process of engaging someone he also showed love in a different and new way. One of the highlights of my life is traveling out to Kansas to see James Crestwood and go to a wedding in St. Louis in 2010. While in Kansas City one of the neatest things that happened was just hanging out next to him on the mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad while drinking coffee, watching trains and just asking questions. That was really unique. While most of this post is dedicated to Scott, Andrew White had this opportunity as well, especially as we worked together and sat 20 feet from each other in a cube environment. That was how Andrew could have related. So having illustrated what do you do?

Ways to Relate

Okay I used an example of how two guys are train addicts and how that worked. But what can a person do? How can a person relate? Its simple really and its not complex at all. How do you do it? Its simple in that you find out what a person enjoys, what makes them tick, what makes them passionate or what interests they have and you honestly engage then. Aside from loving a person and building common ground another way to look at the situation is that you broaden your knowledge and your world. You educate yourself and learn perspectives and things you never knew. So how would this work?

  • The atheist you know loves to weight lift and exercise and you ask if you can exercise with him and lift weights together.
  • The person in the faith crisis loves to bike, you ask if you can bike with him from time to time and you exercise together.
  • The person outside the faith loves gaming and Warhammer. You know nothing about Warhammer but you ask the person if you can learn and take an interest in Warhammer.
  • The person in the faith crisis loves novels and hanging out at bookstores. You ask them what novels they would recommend and ask if they would like to join a book club.
  • The person in the faith crisis loves to travel and you ask them if you can send them postcards of places where you have traveled to, and in the process over time you show them love.

Its not complicated, the only thing I am going to stress is the following. Do not undertake the person as a project. Engage with the expectation that nothing happen and do it out of love and compassion. But this can be an incredible way to break down barriers. 

Some Train Porn

For those of you dealing with a friend, loved one or if you are in the military a unit member who has been overcome by doubt and walked away. I hope this post gives you some practical advice as to how you can still be in their life and remain involved. It takes some work but it can be done. Furthermore it can build up trust which is what I am going to tackle next week. How do you build trust with a person in a faith crisis, or an atheist. Now that I am done let me share some train porn! 😛

Santa Fe 3751

Montana Rail Link

Milwaukee Road 261

Milwaukee Road Electric Operations in Montana

Santa Fe

Norfolk Southern Heritage Diesels

Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700

Union Pacific Big Boy

Norfolk & Western 611

4 thoughts on “How to Respond to a Faith Crisis? Finding Common Interests

  1. Another train person…we literally live across the highway from the KCS tracks. ( I live well back off the highway in a rural area.)
    Some of my former students now work for KCS and are conductors/engineers. Nothing cooler than them going by seeing me, and giving a little ‘ toot.’


  2. Awesome train vids. I’m curious about the larger article, are you saying be friends with atheists or those having a faith crisis so as to get an in on witnessing to them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blue people should be loved for who they are…and not for some ulterior motive. Love should not be conditional or with strings. People are not projects either. If that is the intention then it is wrong. I am not trying to encourage anything otherwise. Does that clarify what I said? If not let me know and I’ll expand upon it.


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